Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 6, 2021

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A conditional use permit is a zoning exception which allows the property owner use of his land in a way not otherwise permitted within the particular zoning district.

Though the exact process differs with the specific ordinance requirements, typically the owner presents his argument orally and by petition before the local zoning board, planning commission, or zoning administrator.

The proponent explains the intended non-conforming use for his property, why he should be allowed the exception to the local zoning, and that being granted the conditional use permit will not negatively impact the surrounding properties.

Purpose of a Conditional Use Permit

A conditional use permit is designed to allow flexibility within the zoning laws. A zoning ordinance cannot account for every situation, and exceptions such as the conditional use permit gives the zoning authority discretion to allow uses otherwise prohibited in the specific district for the benefit of the neighborhood.

A conditional use permit is commonly granted to add commercial, education, or religious services to residential zones. Churches, schools, and small or home-based businesses in residential neighborhoods are all products of the conditional use permit which allows an exception to the zoning law.

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Applying for a Conditional Use Permit

The applicant might begin the process of requesting the permit by a call or letter (drafted by an attorney) to the local zoning authority in charge of granting the conditional use. The local zoning official explains the process, including required forms, notices to other property owners, and fees. He also can tell the land owner what kind of resistance the conditional use might stir up, and what to do to prepare for problems.

This information will be helpful as the applicant files his petition before the zoning body. At the hearing, usually the proponent orally presents his request and answers questions about his conditional use application before the official makes a decision. The property owner applicant must be prepared, flexible, and available throughout the process.

Although there are many factors in granting a conditional use permit, the zoning authority will usually determine whether or not a proposed conditional use will materially alter the neighborhood, and if the change has a positive impact.

Even if the application for a conditional use is rejected, the property owner may still have an opportunity to appeal the decision. A local attorney familiar with conditional use permits and zoning laws can help with the application and possible appeal process.